THE SONIC THE HEDGEHOG COMIC 2011 BEST/WORST LIST
Yes, this is seriously late, so let’s get right to it: this is an overview of the Sonic the Hedgehog Comic #221-232 and Sonic Universe #25-36.
It was a year punctuated with anxiety, animosity and personal clashes … and that’s just between the Goldwater and Silberkleit families who are vying for control of Archie Comics. Read all about it at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/nyregion/the-battle-for-a-comic-empire-that-archie-built.html?pagewanted=all. As for the comics themselves:
BEST COVER STORY: “Sonic Genesis Part 4: Reset” by Ian Flynn, S229
The Sega Genesis retcon/interlude may have gotten off to a slow start (in part because they always started in the Green Hill Zone) but by the final installment Ian Flynn remembered why fans read the comic: not to stroll down memory lane for the sake of the games but for fan love of Sonic. Sonic finally starts getting over his amnesia, and Sally gets in touch with her feelings and realizes they’re being directed toward Sonic. And Sonic goes super by tapping into the Chaos energy flowing through the cabling, which is a neat variation on merely collecting Emeralds. The one drawback here is that Ian follows Editorial policy which says that Sally and Sonic get a feel-good moment before their relationship hits a rather sizable speed bump. Cherish the love, people.
WORST COVER STORY: “Sonic Genesis Part 3: Divide and Conquer” by Ian Flynn, S228
Before the story line bounced back (see above), the Sonic Genesis arc had plowed itself into the ground by the third installment. We start back in the Green Hill Zone for the third time in as many chapters, and despite the fact that there’s a vague flashback to Sally’s death cheat in S225 it’s really hard to care about what’s going on by this point. All in all, this story just spins its wheels and strands itself.
BEST BACK STORY: “Haunted” by Ian Flynn, S231
This story could have been deadly: just four characters talking to each other. But the characters are Naugus and the three former wizards who made up the combo platter that passed for his mind. By splitting the editorial voice four ways, it works better than if this were a textbox monologue. It also sets up the redefinition of Naugus as he has to tell these other aspects of his personality (which I’ve been calling his Posse) to put a lid on the voices only he can hear. This is a great development that shouldn’t be wasted or abused.
WORST BACK STORY: “Fragile” by Scott and David Tipton, S232
I really, really wanted this story to be better and take the Best Back Story honor. Unfortunately, the Tiptons only had 5 pages and a lack of faith in the fans with which to work. The psychological impact of Bunnie getting her old bod back is seriously mishandled as she spends most of her time throwing herself a pity party and indulging in a boatload of exposition. Antoine pulls her out of it, though not very convincingly. After all she’s been through the writers should have paid her the compliment of taking her situation seriously and being more honest about her emotions. Her feeling sorry for herself about no longer being a superhero just doesn’t ring true, probably because she’s so focused on herself and not on her friends who were the beneficiaries of her abilities. Had the Tiptons immersed themselves in the celebrated “Thicker Than Water” arc (S217-218) and studied the interplay between Bunnie and Sonic while they trashed the refinery, they could have written a different and better story.
BEST STORY ARC: “Fractured Mirror” by Ian Flynn, SU 25-28
While Silver has become in this comic the purveyor of weapons-grade cluelessness, he finally gets a chance to shine in an arc that shows more intelligence than most. Despite the long stretches of having him fight Enerjak, Silver finally realizes that the only thing capable of beating Enerjak is Enerjak himself. It was a great idea to have Silver do something other than mindlessly beat on the villain du jour, even though he did enough of that in the course of the arc anyway. If this had been tightened up into a three-story arc it could have been even better.
WORST STORY ARC: “Inside Job” by Ian Flynn, SU29-32
It was a close call on this one, which pitted Ian Flynn’s “Inside Job” against long-time artist and first-time writer Tracy Yardley!’s “Babylon Rising.” Flynn gets the nod here because, by dint of experience, he should have known better.
This arc was a colossal mess. Flynn passes up any attempt to give the prison itself a role in this story by mishandling the skewed gravity gimmick and not playing up its prison-in-the-sky location. He assumes that the readers will feel sorry for Scourge as they watch him getting beat up and bullied, only to watch him shift to beat-and-bully mode himself toward the end. Gimmicks are mishandled, such as the warp ring among Fiona’s personal effects, and details such as the coed nature of the jail as well as the bars that some of the inmates slip through with ease had me shaking my head in dismay and disbelief. And it wouldn’t be a failed story without the action grinding to a halt in the middle for the benefit of several expository flashbacks of some minor villains which bring absolutely nothing worthwhile to the party. If Scourge ever lands back in jail, he should be sentenced to reading this thing over and over.
BEST COVER ART: S222, Ben Bates/Terry Austin/Matt Herms
This year proved to be a mixed bag of covers, though they were mostly strong. I went with this one because it represented the Feel Good Cover of 2011. Heaven knows the SonicxSally shippers and the characters themselves could use a break.
WORST COVER ART: S226-229, Pat Spaziante
It almost seems heretical to say this, but Pat Spaziante’s covers for the Sega Genesis arc were to me the weakest of the year. Not bad per se, just weak: Sonic highlighted with as little narrative content as possible. Speaking as someone who was reading this book when Spaz was at the top of his game and producing dynamite covers and the occasional bit of story art, these are just sad. He should have just signed these covers “Allan Smithee.”
BEST STORY ART: Evan Stanley, “Haunted,” S231
Again, a story where four characters stand around talking could have been a visual challenge, but Evan Stanley’s tour de force more than rose to the occasion. The trickiest aspect was the page where the faces of the wizards take turn superimposed on Naugus’s features. It’s an impressive bit of illustrating.
WORST STORY ART: n/a
In the two decades (give or take a year) that I’ve been reading this comic, I’ve seen more bad artwork than I care to admit, from the attempts of various comic artists at home with drawing the human form trying and failing miserably to do furry art to the abomination that was “Naugus Games.” Nowadays, however, Archie has reined in its artistic situation and Tracy Yardley! is turning in consistently good work. This past year, therefore, there really WERE no Worst Story Art contenders. It’s a situation I hope will spread to the writing at some point.
BEST NEW CHARACTER: Naugus and his Posse
I never thought I’d be writing this, but Naugus really came into his own this year, starting with his impressive appearance in “Changing Tempo” (S221) where he forgets about the crystal magick jazz and plays upon the mass fear of the Mobians directed at Nicole. He also proves to be adroit in handling off-the-cuff situations, something that Tracy Yardley! should have remembered when he used Naugus as a punching bag for the bird Battle Lord in “Babylon Rising.” All this while Naugus’s personality literally dis-integrates and his three Inner Wizards take on a fitful life of their own thanks to Eggman’s junking around with reality in S225’s “One Step Forward.” Naugus finally became a villain to reckon with.
WORST NEW CHARACTER: The XVth Battle Lord (or maybe it’s the XIVth)
You know you’re in trouble when halfway through a story arc you can’t keep your character’s name straight. That’s pretty much what happened to the Battle Lord in the “Babylon Rising” arc; he was the XVth Battle Lord for the first two installments, then was identified as the XIVth Battle Lord in part 3, and by the fourth chapter Editorial noticed what had happened and basically said “Screw it!” and dropped any reference to his succession number to avoid further embarrassment.
But the Battle Lord is an embarrassment all by himself. Somewhere between “Trouble in Paradise” (SU17-20) and “Babylon Rising,” the Battle Lord was promoted from Evil Villain to Evil Supervillain for no good reason and with no explanation, good or bad. This isn’t loose continuity, this is an example of a writer playing fast and loose with the continuity. Shameful.
BEST DIALOGUE: “Please do not punch me in the face. It’s all I have left.” “Second Impressions: Part 2” (S222). My estimation of Dimitri went up at this point. A great blend of humor and just enough pathos.
BEST NEW IDEA: “Psych!”
Violence, even cartoon violence, is the coin of the realm as far as comic books are concerned, and this book has certainly seen its share. Beginning with “Changing Tempo,” however, Ian brings a new weapon out of the arsenal: psychology. Rather than acting like Robotnik or the Iron Queen and taking over Mobius by force, Naugus manipulated the mass Mobian mind against Nicole. That made it surprisingly easy for Naugus to snow the populace and (with the help of Geoff) engineer a bloodless coup d’etat. Things got a little complicated when Robotnik junked around with time and space and when the Battle Bird Armada blew up the castle looking for a cheap ending, but Ian deserves props for introducing an element of complexity into the make-up of a comic book villain, a species of character that is usually one-dimensional at best.
WORST NEW IDEA: “Space aliens? Seriously?”
I ended up on Karl Bollers’s bad side on a number of occasions over the years when he was writing for Sonic, but when he departed I thought that the book had seen the last of the use of space aliens in some of his stories (including those that appeared under his pen name “Benny Lee”). The characters he created included one-dimensional villains such as the Xorda, deus ex machina operators such as the Bem, and props with speaking parts which communicated the message “What are we doing in THIS book?” such as the Blodex and the Bzzzz. Anyone who fishes around for space aliens to flesh out a Sonic story just hasn’t thought hard enough about mother Mobius.
Imagine my dismay, therefore, when Tracy Yardley! lifted the ending of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” to wrap up his “Babylon Rising” story arc, resorting to the spaceship-as-archeological-artifact plot point. And he couldn’t even bring himself to have FUN with it; instead, he ground into the carpet the notion that Mobian birds are space seed spawned on another world, which turns Jet of the Babylon Rogues into a saucer cult True Believer. The best use of Loose Continuity, IMO, would be to pretend that the climax of “Babylon Rising” never really happened, and for the writers to agree that they will never speak of the saucer cult again. This is the Plot Point That Must Not Be Named.
I’ve been informed by a correspondent that Tracy Yardley! was NOT responsible for the Birds-As-Space-Seed plot point in Babylon Rising. The true culprit is … Team Sonic! In the “Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity” game, this plot point is mentioned. The fact that Tracy is innocent here and that it was Team Sonic’s idea doesn’t justify a lame-brained plot, however. Remember, these were the geniuses who brought us Sonic and Elise on your TV, K-i-s-s-i-n-g. Because I still haven’t managed to figure out how to even get out of the initial stage of Sonic 2006, I thought it was a reflection on my crappy gaming skills; maybe I’ve been too hard on myself.